Would you spend 250 on a pan that stirs itself or 45 on a toaster that cooks beans Femail's craft cook Anne Shooter tests the latest (and craziest) kitchen gadgets
21:22 GMT, 7 September 2012
A self-stirring pot, the HomeCooker, has been launched by Jamie Oliver and Philips — but is it really worth 250 when surely you could just use a wooden spoon and stir it yourself Here, the Daily Mail’s newly trained chef ANNE SHOOTER tests it, along with 11 other foodie gadgets that promise to make your life easier . . .
Causing a stir: Anne loves the HomeCooker, a pan that stirs itself and gave it four out of five rating
PHILIPS/JAMIE OLIVER HOMECOOKER, 250
John Lewis, johnlewis.com,08456 049 049
I was cynical about this self-stirring pan — cross, even, that Jamie Oliver would associate himself with a product this expensive when stirring is hardly arduous.
However, I was impressed. The pan is on a base with a straightforward control panel — you just set the temperature (anything between 40c and 250c) and the cooking time (up to 99 minutes). Inside the large, metal, double-handled pan is a removable rotating, flat blade — it looks a little like a food processor, but it stirs rather than chops.
I made a risotto that involved such minimal effort I could hardly believe it. I put chopped onions, garlic and sliced mushrooms into the pot with a splash of olive oil, whacked up the temperature, put it on to fry, stirring, for ten minutes while I gathered the other ingredients. I had to push some pieces of onion down from the sides of the pot, and I turned over the mushrooms, but I did very little else.
Next I added stock, risotto rice, dried porcini mushrooms and a glass of white wine, turned the heat down, and let it do its thing without touching it for 18 minutes. Result: Perfect risotto, zero effort.
Great for anyone busy (or needing a break, or a glass of wine with dinner party guests). I’d use it for bolognese, scrambled eggs (I could get the children dressed for school while breakfast makes itself), soups, curries, stews and custard. Pricey — but I’d like one anyway!
VERDICT: Expensive, but impressive. 4/5
Great gizmo: The Yonanas Fruit Ice cream maker offers a frozen smoothie that is genuinely healthy
YONANAS FRUIT ICE CREAM MAKER, 14.99
Available by bid shopping at bid.tv (in stock next week)
You put frozen fruit in the top, press the button, push the fruit through, and ice cream comes out of the bottom.
Only it’s not really ice cream, it is a frozen smoothie with no diary content at all, so it has no fat, but it does have lots of fibre and is genuinely healthy.
It took me a while to get the hang of it — when I first used it, I ended up with what looked like grated raspberry and banana, but the trick is to leave the fruit to thaw for ten minutes before using it, then it purees beautifully. I love this machine, and my children love it even more.
Worth the cupboard space, and that’s something you won’t hear me say very often.
VERDICT: Great gizmo, great price. 5/5
TWIST 'N' SPARKLE FIZZY DRINK MAKER, 29.99
Lakeland, lakeland.com, 01539 488 100
This machine, below left, promises to ‘fizz up any beverage’. You fill the bottle with the liquid of your choice, insert an iSi charger (pressurised carbon dioxide) into the lid, twist the lid and pump — and ta-da, a fizzy drink!
Only in my case, I twisted the lid and the bottle frothed up and all but exploded, spraying fizzy water (thank goodness I tested it with water) all over the kitchen.
Maybe it was an error on my part but, even so, I’m not keen on this. The iSi capsules are expensive and one-use only. It’s just a soda syphon dressed up as something clever, which makes me feel it’s a rip-off.
VERDICT: No thanks. 0/5
Mixed bag: Anne says the Twist 'N' Sparkle fizzy drink maker is a rip-off, but the food blender is worth every penny
VITAMIX FOOD BLENDER. 459.95
John Lewis, as before
An expensive but amazing blender, above right, used in professional kitchens, with an engine so strong that when you make a smoothie, you don’t need to peel or core apples, you can leave the seeds in a melon and you don’t hull strawberries — it whizzes everything to juice and gives you all the extra vitamins and fibre in your drink.
It is great for mincing meat, making soup, even grinding pulses to flour — and does it more quickly and effectively than any other blender on the market.
In fact, it has so much power that if you keep it whirring it gets so hot you can use it as a cooker to make hot soup or scrambled eggs.
It comes with a tamper to push ingredients down or off the sides while it’s running.
VERDICT: Worth every penny. 5/5
PHILIPS ADVANCE GRILL, 120
Argos, argos.co.uk, 0845 640 2020, and Homebase, homebase.co.uk, 0845 077 8888)
This is an indoor barbecue, designed to be the perfect solution to unpredictable British weather. It’s just an electric, non-stick grill with smooth and ridged surfaces sloped to encourage fat to run off.
The barbecue part consists of a pot for wood chips (some are provided or you can buy more for 7 a pop), which are supposed to add a smoky flavour to whatever you’re cooking.
Fun: But the Philips advanced grill, costing 120, is too big to store in many kitchens
The chips go into a metal pot that sits in the grill area and starts to smoke as the grill heats up. Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, but it works well, and is non-stick so it is easy to clean.
It can be used to cook fish, vegetables and halloumi cheese, as well as meat. You can cook enough for four people and the food tasted good, though not very smoky.
It’s big, though (where do you keep something like this) and my sausages kept rolling down the grill.
VERDICT: Fun, but too big to store. 3/5
Pie lover's dream; This pie maker is great for fans of the food, but does have some drawbacks
ELECTRIC PIE MAKER, 29.99
Lakeland, as before
This machine does for pies what toastie-makers did for sandwiches – and it works in almost the same way, but using circles of pastry and a filling of your choice instead of bread.
To make four small pies, take a sheet of pastry and, using the cutter provided, cut four large circles and four smaller circles of pastry.
When the machine is hot (it gets very hot — my curious daughter ended up with a nasty burn on her thumb) place the large circles into the compartments and push down gently with the shaper. Add a good spoonful of filling, top with the small circles, glaze with milk or beaten egg if you wish, and close the machine.
Fifteen minutes later (it says eight on the box, but it took twice that), you have the most wonderful smell of home-baked pastry wafting through your house – and four perfect little pies.
It’s great value, though it took a few attempts to get the filling right. If you put in too much, the edges won’t seal; too little and you end up with a sunken, uncooked lid.
This would languish in a cupboard in my house. If I was going to make a pie, it would be a large one. It was also tricky to clean off burnt-on pie filling because you can’t take out the base to wash it.
VERDICT: If you like pies, you’ll love this. 3/5
Ludicrous: This beans on toast machine is very silly
TEFAL TOAST 'N' BEAN, 44.99
Argos, as before
This is very silly. You put toast in the toaster and at the same time half a can of beans, or an egg, in the little side compartment and hey presto! you have beans or egg on toast. It works OK, but I can’t quite fathom who would use this rather than cooking the beans or egg in a pan. I’m guessing maybe a student living in halls of residence might like one or . . . No, I can’t think of anyone else.
VERDICT: Ludicrous. 1/5
AEROPRESS COFFEE MAKER, 29.99
firebox.com, 0800 044 5010
This is clever! If you’re an espresso drinker, you’ll love it. Anywhere you have access to boiled water, you can use it to make a good coffee.
There isn’t a plug, so you can use it at your desk, in a hotel room, even while travelling. It’s also light, small, easily transportable, easy to clean, shatterproof . . . yes, I like this a lot.
It consists of two plastic tubes, see below left, with one that fits inside the other. You take the bigger tube and pop in a filter (these are provided) and a spoonful of decent ground coffee, then place it on top of a cup and add hot water (there are lines marked on the tube to show you how much to add).
Then you take the second tube and insert it into the larger one and push down. The coffee and water are pushed through the filter and voila! A proper, strong coffee in less than a minute with no fuss, no mess and no irritating person asking you your name before they serve you.
VERDICT: Coffee lovers rejoice. 5/5
This portable coffee maker, left, can be taken almost anywhere and makes a great cup, while the digital spoon, right, is accurate but may not replace traditional table or teaspoons
DIGITAL SPOON SCALE, 16.95
prezzybox.com, 0844 495 5007
This spoon, above right, has a digital scale in the handle so you can scoop up small quantities of ingredients and weigh them at the same time.
It is accurate — I tested it against known quantities of sugar and flour — but I’m not sure I’d ever use it.
I measure accurately using teaspoons or tablespoons, and if I’m using scales for baking, it’s no hassle to add small quantities without needing a special spoon.
This would make a nice gift for a foodie friend, but it’s not essential kit.
VERDICT: Fun, but frivolous. 3/5
Lakeland, as before
I wasn’t sure I needed one of these in my life — a vacuum-packing machine for which you need special bags (not cheap at 16.99 for two rolls) and I was sure it would be tricky to use. But goodness, I want one now!
All you do is put food into a bag, put the open end into the machine, and it sucks the air out and seals it for you in a matter of seconds.
Quality kit: This foodsaver helps vacuum pack your food in a matter of seconds
This means food takes up far less room freezer, it doesn’t get those nasty big ice crystals when you freeze it and it will keep fresh longer in the fridge.
You can also cook the food in the bag in a sous-vide, or water bath.
I really like it — as someone who always needs more space in my fridge and freezer, I know I would use one.
It has a range of accessories so you can use it to keep opened bottles of wine fresh by attaching a special lid and sucking out the air or for marinating food — the vacuum process speeds up and intensifies the infusion of flavours into food.
VERDICT: Quality foodie kit. 4/5
Nifty: This jug now has a place in Anne's kitchen
DIGITAL SMART JUG, 21.99
Salter, widely available
This is a nifty piece of equipment — simple, but useful. You can use the jug on the scales to measure liquid or solids, in metric or imperial (you can also measure volume, including American cups).
Having a jug on top of the scales, rather than a bowl, is genius because it’s so convenient to be able to pour liquids. The scales and the jug fit together, but can be used independently. A high-quality product at a good price.
VERDICT: Welcome to my kitchen. 5/5
Effective: This soup maker will create all sorts of varieties but it is bulky
MORPHY RICHARDS SOUP MAKER, 49.99
add stock and raw ingredients to this kettle-like gadget and 15 minutes later you can have hot, smooth (or chunky) soup. I’ve owned one for a while and have used it for all sorts of soup, from basic carrot and coriander to beetroot and caraway borscht and delicious fresh tomato soup.
It’s a clever machine, but bulky, and you don’t get the flavour benefits of frying onions as a starting point to making your soup.
Decent stock (I use Swiss Bouillon powder) helps make up for this, but it’s not the right machine for some soups such as French onion or minestrone. Still, it’s a great gadget for soup lovers.
VERDICT: Effective — but bulky. 4/5